Friday, June 24, 2005

NOTE: In this final post, I introduced Mark Jurkowitz, who served as the Phoenix's media columnist from mid-2005 to mid-2006, and who is now the associate director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, in Washington. Lest there be any confusion, the current author of Media Log, now called Don't Quote Me, is Adam Reilly, as explained in the column at right. — DK, 12/14/07

THE LAST POST. Media Log made its debut in October 2002. I can't tell you what I wrote about, because the archives have been corrupted somehow. But I can say I've enjoyed taking part in the blogging movement and trying to figure out how this new type of DIY journalism can enhance and expand the role of a media critic.

The Phoenix's new media critic, Mark Jurkowitz, is planning to write some type of media-related blog, so please look for it on BostonPhoenix.com. I have no doubt that Mark will immediately establish an online presence that will make him a must-read.

I'm taking the summer off before beginning my new job this September teaching journalism at Northeastern University. If you'd like to know what my future blogging plans might be, please check in occasionally at DanKennedy.net.

It's been a pleasure writing for you. Thank you.

"DARK ALLIANCE" IS BACK ONLINE. The groundbreaking 1996 series by Gary Webb, who committed suicide last December, reported on the connection between the CIA, the Nicaraguan contras, and the explosion of crack in the United States.

Now NarcoNews.com is uploading the entire series to the Web. According to Narco News's Dan Feder, the entire website put together by the San Jose Mercury News was recently discovered on a CD-ROM by Webb's family.

"Dark Alliance" was a landmark of Internet journalism, with people around the country and even the world logging onto the Mercury's website to read it. The grotesque overreaction by the mainstream media to what were some fairly minor flaws in Webb's reporting (not to mention the Mercury's gutlessness in throwing Webb over the side) helped form the current critique of corporate journalism by activists on the left.

Congratulations to Narco News and its founder, my former Phoenix colleague Al Giordano, for getting Webb's work back in circulation.

GLOBE NAMES OMBUDSMAN. Boston Globe publisher Richard Gilman has appointed Richard Chacón to the ombudsman's post, replacing Chris Chinlund. Here's the e-mail Gilman sent out to the staff yesterday:

June 23, 2005

To The Staff:

I'm pleased to announce that Richard Chacon will assume new duties as ombudsman beginning on Monday morning, June 27. Richard replaces Christine Chinlund who, after three years of gracefully dealing with the sometimes unhappy reader and weighing in on matters of importance to the newspaper, has moved on to become the new editor of Globe South. I want to thank Chris for all she has done and for all of her incredible diplomacy in juggling the competing points of view that so often end up in the ombudsman's office. The newspaper is better for her efforts.

In his new role, Richard will report directly to me. This is meant to reinforce his role as a neutral observer while at the same time affirming the independence of the newsroom where, as always, our editors make the final call on content issues. Like Chris, Richard will write a column every other week for the op-ed page and will also establish an online ombudsman's page.

Although reader issues will continue to be the main focus of his job, Richard will also try to put his own stamp on the position by reaching out to the community in the broadest sense and creating a dialogue aimed at promoting a better understanding of our business and our role in Greater Boston.

He's a great choice for the job. His newsroom credentials are impeccable, his recent Nieman experience has given him the time to think about some of the larger issues facing journalism today, and his time as deputy foreign editor and foreign correspondent gives him a world perspective that will be of value in his new role.

I hope you will join with me in wishing Richard the best in his important new role.

Richard

Chacón should be given a chance, of course. Structurally, though, this appointment is problematic, because Chacón is part of the Globe family, and - from what I hear - wants to stay after his ombudsman stint is over. That's been a problem with most of the paper's ombudsmen; some have handled it better than others.

The Globe's corporate sibling, the New York Times, has embraced a better model during the brief period that it's had an ombudsman - or "public editor," as the Times prefers to call him: an outsider who's given a contract for a limited period.

The first Times public editor, Dan Okrent, was fiercely independent. The new guy, Byron Calame, has just started. His first real column was actually a defense of the Times, which may set off some alarms, although his defense was warranted, in my view.

Being an in-house critic of folks as touchy as journalists must be as pleasant as having your teeth pulled without Novocaine. It's a position that would benefit from maximum independence.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

WHY GOD MADE TABLOIDS. This Herald front doesn't quite rise to the level of the drunken toga party during a late-night House session several years ago. But it will do. Dave Wedge writes:

While the unfinished state budget sat back at the State House, the parade of representatives at the Hyannis public course began at 9 a.m. sharp, with several reps taking trips to the driving range, putting on sunblock and lacing up their golf shoes. Several unidentified players were spotted drinking beer in their carts.

DURBIN GETS IT. Even if some of his defenders don't. From the senator's apology yesterday:

Mr. President, I have come to understand that was a very poor choice of words. I tried to make this very clear last Friday that I understood to those analogies to the Nazis, Soviets and others were poorly chosen. I issued a release which I thought made my intentions and my inner-most feeling as clear as I possibly could.

Let me read to you what I said. "I have learned from my statement that historical parallels can be misused and misunderstood. I sincerely regret if what I said causes anybody to misunderstand my true feelings. Our soldiers around the world and their families at home deserve our respect, admiration and total support."

Mr. President, it is very clear that even though I thought I had said something that clarified the situation, to many people it was still unclear. I'm sorry if anything that I said caused any offense or pain to those who have such bitter memories of the Holocaust, the greatest moral tragedy of our time. Nothing, nothing should ever be said to demean or diminish that moral tragedy.

Now let's get back to the real issue: the well-documented abuses - including torture - that have taken place at Guantánamo and other detention facilities, thus damaging American moral authority in the eyes of the world. (Via Andrew Sullivan.)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

A VERY LARGE BOSTON NEWSPAPER. Two examples of an odd journalistic practice in today's edition of Boston's largest daily newspaper.

- Columnist Joan Vennochi writes about an exchange that took place on the radio between MassINC executive director Ian Bowles and Peter Blute. Bowles, Vennochi semi-informs us, was "on the radio yesterday morning" with Blute, a "radio host and former congressman." Why not just say that Bowles was a guest host on WRKO Radio (AM 680)? [Update: Whoops. Bowles was interviewed by 'RKO, but he was not a guest host.]

- In a feature on mixed martial arts, Jack Encarnacao writes, "A series of recent local media reports about the Roxy event lumped the sport together with 'Tough Man' contests and professional wrestling, two spectacles in which deaths have occurred, usually as a result of amateurs taking risks." Substitute "Boston Herald" for "local media," and you now know one more thing than Encarnacao told you.

Not to single out either writer. This is so ingrained that it's got to be some bizarre copy-desk rule. But I don't get it.

GET YOUR PHOENIX. And send the Tracksters a couple of T-shirts.

TOO EASY. Once or twice a month, I get a nasty e-mail from a Mark Steyn fan, which always leads me to wonder what the glib faker has been up to lately. The answer: taking utterly predictable shots at Senator Dick Durbin, and - of course! - stacking the deck besides.

God bless Steyn - he's always good for an item.

As I've said before, Durbin's remarks comparing American soldiers at Guantánamo to Nazis, Soviet guards, and the Khmer Rouge were stupid and offensive - every bit as stupid and offensive as Senator Rick Santorum's comparing the filibustering Democrats to Nazis.

But I want to draw attention to how Steyn sets up Durbin's remarks. Steyn writes:

Last Tuesday, Senator Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, quoted a report of U.S. "atrocities" at Guantanamo and then added:

"If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime - Pol Pot or others - that had no concern for human beings."

Er, well, your average low-wattage senator might. But I wouldn't. The "atrocities" he enumerated - "Not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room" - are not characteristic of the Nazis, the Soviets or Pol Pot, and, at the end, the body count in Gitmo was a lot lower. That's to say, it was zero, which would have been counted a poor day's work in Auschwitz or Siberia or the killing fields of Cambodia.

That's the extent of it in Steynworld: the prisoners had to listen to Snoop Dogg, and it was hot. But here is what Durbin actually said before making his unfortunate Nazi/Soviet/Pol Pot comparison:

When you read some of the graphic descriptions of what has occurred here - I almost hesitate to put them in the record, and yet they have to be added to this debate. Let me read to you what one FBI agent saw. And I quote from his report:

On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold.... On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor.

If Steyn wants to beat up on Durbin, that's fine. Frankly, Durbin deserves it. But by glossing over - and making fun of - what has actually happened at Guantánamo, as documented by US government officials, Steyn demonstrates once again that he's nothing but a Republican cheerleader with scant regard for the facts.

Monday, June 20, 2005

BLOGGING IN THE DARK. Byron Calame's first real column as the New York Times public editor is about the limits of blogging, though he doesn't explicitly say that. He takes on the Times' recent piece on Aero Contractors, a CIA-affiliated airline that has apparently been used to fly terrorism suspects to countries where they can be tortured.

Calame begins:

A striking number of readers have denounced The New York Times for describing the Central Intelligence Agency's covert air operations for transporting suspected terrorists in a Page 1 article on May 31....

The generally strident e-mail messages demanded to know why The Times had decided to publish information that the readers believe will aid terrorists and make life in the United States less safe for everyone - especially the people carrying out the operation. Most of them didn't seem to be aware that the once-secret air operations had been mentioned in earlier articles and broadcasts elsewhere.

As you can imagine, the story has also been a cause célèbre among conservative bloggers. This blog entry on Just One Minute pulls together a lot of the anger. The weirdest line: "Yes, I find it very suspicious that this story comes out immediately after the arrest of Oliver Stone. A warning shot?"

Anyway, you get the idea: the conservative critique is that the Times exposed an ongoing CIA operation aimed at quashing terrorist operations. Thus, the argument goes, the Times has dealt a serious setback to the war against terrorism.

But wait. As Calame observes, the Times article had little in the way of real news. Rather, it pulled together previous reporting on the subject. Essentially it was the sort of "all known facts" article beloved by editors at the Times. Then there was this bombshell, from reporter Scott Shane, who e-mailed to Calame: "[A] summary of the planned story was provided to the C.I.A. several days prior to publication, and no request was made to withhold any of its contents."

Calame rightly pounces on this as the heart of what this manufactured dispute is all about. He writes:

Since the article was not published until five days after the summary was sent to the agency, the C.I.A. had ample time to protest to the reporting team or to top editors at The Times. But Jill Abramson, a managing editor who was among the top editors who approved of pursuing the project and who later cleared it for publication, said the C.I.A. never made even a "request to discuss" the article before it was published. Nor have there been complaints from the agency since the article was published, she said.

In other words, conservative outrage over the Times article is much ado about absolutely nothing.

But as I said, this is about the limits of blogging. In fact, based strictly on what had been published, and without knowing the inside machinations, the conservatives had a legitimate case to make. It's only after we learn that the Times had taken the extra step of checking with the CIA that the conservatives' case falls apart. That's the problem with blogs, including, at times, this one: what news organizations publish or broadcast is fair game. But when a blogger comments on a story without knowing what may have been going on behind the scenes, he risks making a point that falls apart.

As Calame also notes, what the Times did also raises the question of what would have happened if the CIA had cried foul. Perhaps the paper could have fudged a few details if failing to do so would have put lives at risk. But I certainly hope (and assume) the editors wouldn't have killed the story.

NO COMMENT NECESSARY

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee last week that in the three and a half years since the Patriot Act was enacted, Section 215 has been used 35 times - but only to obtain driver's license, credit card, and telephone records, not library or bookstore reading lists. Deeply invested though some of the law's critics may be in the notion that the Bush administration lives to pry into the reading habits of law-abiding Americans, there is simply no evidence to back it up. - Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe, 4/10/05

Law enforcement officials have made at least 200 formal and informal inquiries to libraries for information on reading material and other internal matters since October 2001, according to a new study that adds grist to the growing debate in Congress over the government's counterterrorism powers. - Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, 6/20/05

Sunday, June 19, 2005

NEAL POLLACK COMES CLEAN. Or does he? This is interesting if it's on the level. Otherwise, it's stupid and boring. Of course, with the McSweeney's crowd you never know.

And no, I'm not that Dan Kennedy. The closest I ever got to Dave Eggers was for a brief time in 1996, when I was writing a media column for Salon and he was filling in as media-editor-of-the-month. The pleasure was all his.

Friday, June 17, 2005

MEET THE NEW BOSS. It's hard to imagine a worse public-relations (or, frankly, substantive) move than this. Yesterday the Boston Globe's corporate owner, the New York Times Company, named James Kilts, the man who's trying to destroy Boston icon Gillette, to its board of directors.

From the press release:

"We are delighted to have Jim join our Board," said Arthur Sulzberger Jr., chairman of the Times Company. "He has 30 years of consumer products industry experience under his belt and is highly regarded as an innovator and industry leader. His skills, expertise and leadership will benefit us greatly."

The Boston Herald has the requisite amount of fun with this, headlining its story "Who's Your Daddy?" According to the article, by Jay Fitzgerald and Brett Arends, Globe editor Marty Baron was unavailable, and neither executive editor Helen Donovan nor Globe spokesman Al Larkin would comment.

I don't believe the Globe will go easy on Kilts just because he's on the Times Company board. In fact, Globe columnist Steve Bailey today has a pretty withering take on the Kilts appointment. But Kilts - who's lined his pockets with gold at the expense of Gillette's workers - has been bad for Boston. And it's an insult to this city that the Times Company would allow him to have any say whatsoever in the business operations of New England's largest media organization.

The Globe's story on the appointment, by Jenn Abelson, centers around the possibility that Kilts's main role will be to rustle up consumer-product advertising. Let's hope so. The last thing we need to find out is that Kilts is trying to convince his fellow board members that copy-editing jobs can be outsourced to Bangalore.

Here is a BusinessWeek story on Secretary of State Bill Galvin's investigation into the Gillette-Procter & Gamble merger - a deal that, if it goes through, will make Kilts and 16 other Gillette executives $450 million richer while costing thousands of people their jobs.

GOOSE-STEPPING RHETORIC. No, Democratic senator Dick Durbin should not have drawn a comparison between American guards at Guantánamo and the Nazis. But before we put him on trial for treason, let's not forget that Republican senator Rick Santorum recently compared Democrats to Nazis.

Kudos to Alan Colmes for showing the video of Santorum on last night's Hannity & Colmes. Even though I assume Sean knew it was coming, I do think he was momentarily flustered.

For the record, I think Durbin and Santorum have proven themselves to be a couple of boneheads.

PANDER MODE. How much damage does Governor Mitt Romney intend to do before his term as governor ends and he can finally start campaigning for president full-time? Now he's lending his full support to a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage in Massachusetts without even guaranteeing civil unions as an alternative. (Globe coverage here; Herald coverage here.)

MEDIA LOG ON THE AIR. In case you're interested in watching, listening to, or heckling me in the next week, here's where you'll be able to find me:

Today, 7 p.m. Greater Boston's "Beat the Press" media roundup, WGBH-TV (Channel 2).

Sunday, 9:30 p.m. Pundit Review Radio, WRKO (AM 680).

Tuesday, 9:30 a.m. Incoming Phoenix media critic Mark Jurkowitz and I will talk about the state of local media on The Point, on WGBH's Cape Cod radio stations.

Thursday, 7 to 9 a.m. I'll be filling in for the vacationing Scott Allen Miller on Blute & Scotto, on WRKO.

Friday, July 1, 7 p.m. Greater Boston, Channel 2.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

ARGUING IRAQ. Today's Boston Herald includes an op-ed piece by Mackubin T. Owens - a professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College in Newport - arguing that the mainstream media in general and the Boston Globe in particular are taking too pessimistic a view of the Iraqi insurgency.

Media Log aims to please, so here is the Globe story to which Owens refers - a June 10 piece by Bryan Bender, who quoted sources claiming that the insurgency has degenerated into a classic guerrilla war that isn't going to end anytime soon.

Owens's piece - which originally appeared in the New York Post - includes this statement:

[T]he Globe is wrong. Coalition operations in Iraq have killed hundreds of insurgents and led to the capture of many hundreds more, including two dozen of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's top lieutenants. Intelligence from captured insurgents, as well as from Zarqawi's computer, has had a cascading effect, permitting the Coalition to maintain pressure on the insurgency.

But Owens isn't arguing so much with the Globe as he is with folks like Paul Hughes, a retired Army colonel who served in Iraq. Hughes told Bender:

"We are not going to win the unconditional surrender from the insurgents and have no choice but to somehow bring them into society," said retired Army Colonel Paul Hughes, an Iraq war veteran who is now at the government-funded US Institute for Peace. "To think there will be one climactic military event to end this is foolish. Those who cling to that don't understand."

Caveat: I understand that Hughes's comments do not directly refute Owens's point. But they indirectly refute it, no?

Here is more on Owens.

Yesterday, Thomas Friedman - still free until September! - offered the most obvious response to Owens's optimism. Friedman wrote:

Our core problem in Iraq remains Donald Rumsfeld's disastrous decision - endorsed by President Bush - to invade Iraq on the cheap. From the day the looting started, it has been obvious that we did not have enough troops there. We have never fully controlled the terrain. Almost every problem we face in Iraq today - the rise of ethnic militias, the weakness of the economy, the shortages of gas and electricity, the kidnappings, the flight of middle-class professionals - flows from not having gone into Iraq with the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force.

Friedman supported the war, and I didn't. Still, the evidence would suggest that Friedman is absolutely correct in his assessment of why the Iraq adventure keeps going from bad to worse - and why the American death toll now tops 1700.

HARD TIMES AT SPARE CHANGE NEWS. The Herald's Jay Fitzgerald has the details. I wrote about Spare Change a year ago, when the homeless-empowerment paper was trying to expand. Unfortunately, it didn't work - at least not as well as it needed to.

NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. Don't read it on the Web - pick up a copy of the newly designed print edition, which the Globe and the Herald report on today. If you grabbed a copy from me at Oak Grove this morning, thank you.

I've got a piece on why the Democrats would be crazy to nominate Hillary Clinton for president.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

ET TU, CAMBRIDGE? Since when are antiwar protesters herded into a specially designated pit area in the People's Republic of Cambridge? Since yesterday, apparently. Police arrested seven people at an event on Cambridge Common to celebrate the 230th anniversary of the US Army. (Globe coverage here; Herald coverage here.)

According to the ACLU of Massachusetts, the trouble began when Cambridge authorities decided not to let protesters exercise their free-speech rights unless they agreed to move to a pit away from the main event - reminiscent of the pen set up at last summer's Democratic National Convention, outside the FleetCenter.

Here's an excerpt from a news release (PDF) put out yesterday by the ACLU:

Organizers announced in advance that anyone wishing to question the event or U.S. policy in Iraq would be asked to confine their activities to a small area at a far corner of the Cambridge Common behind a row of Jersey barriers in a so-called "free speech area." ACLU attorneys warned city lawyers late Monday that forcing people into this "pen" because they had signs or leaflets deemed to constitute protest messages would be unconstitutional and the city could be held liable to those herded into the zone.

Here's an account on the Boston Indymedia site by one of the protesters. While I certainly don't condone the comparison of the United States to the "Third Reich," this is a comprehensive, if one-sided, description of what happened.

IRONIC CONCLUSION. Last fall, WBUR general manager Jane Christo's announcement that she intended to sell the public radio station's Rhode Island outlet, WRNI, set off a chain of events that very quickly led to her resignation.

Now the new management at 'BUR has decided to hold onto its Rhode Island station. Ian Donnis, of the Providence Phoenix, reported yesterday that though this appears to be good news, local activists remain skeptical.

The Providence Journal has a detailed update today.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

(NOT) INVESTIGATING HIMSELF. David Corn and Jeff Goldberg have a fascinating piece on the Nation's website about a heretofore unknown bit of lore about Deep Throat: at one point, as the Watergate scandal was unraveling, Mark Felt was put in charge of finding out who was leaking to the Washington Post. Well, now.

Check out this memo, quoted by Corn and Goldberg, that Felt wrote to a subordinate:

As you know, Woodward and Bernstein have written numerous articles about Watergate. While their stories have contained much fiction and half truths, they have frequently set forth information which they attribute to Federal investigators, Department of Justice sources, and FBI sources. We know that they were playing games with the case agent in the Washington Field Office trying to trick him into giving them bits of information. On balance and despite the fiction, there is no question that they have access to sources either in the FBI or in the Department of Justice.

This is smoke-blowing of the highest order. No wonder Felt's secret stayed safe for more than three decades.

ARTS ONLINE. Joel Brown, formerly the chief arts editor at the Boston Herald, has put together a terrific new resource: HubArts.com, which he bills as "One-stop shopping for news & comment on Boston arts and culture."

Brown combines original content with bloggier fare linking to other news sites (especially the Herald's, but plenty of others as well). He's got links to a bunch of Boston-area arts organizations. And the layout is clean and attractive. What more do you want?

Monday, June 13, 2005

"WHAT HAPPENS TO THE INSTITUTIONAL VOICE?" It disappears, that's what. And it may be about time. Veteran media reporter Alicia Shepard, a former American Journalism Review stalwart writing her first piece for the expanded New York Times media section, today takes a look at Michael Kinsley's controversial efforts to shake up the Los Angeles Times' editorial page.

Kinsley has been cutting staff, using freelancers, and generally trying to reinvent what is often the most stodgy section of any major daily newspaper. He's also reportedly groping his way toward a radically different Web version of his pages. Shepard quotes an old-timer, political reporter Jack Nelson, as saying, "I think it's absolutely crazy to have outsiders writing editorials at all. What happens to the institutional voice?"

Kinsley is dealing with a conundrum. Opinion-writing is the most popular part of any paper (in sports, especially, but in politics, too). Yet the unsigned editorial - that is, the institutional voice of the newspaper, speaking from on high - has seen better days. In a Web-based media culture increasingly shaped by multiple opinions and talking back, that kind of one-way communication seems less and less relevant - the newspaper equivalent of what Les Moonves disparagingly calls the "Voice of God" when referring to the old-fashioned anchormen.

Opinion - well-informed opinion that responsibly seeks to inform and persuade - is vital to any news organization. Today's Boston Globe offers an interesting model: the lead editorial is a signed piece by Donald MacGillis - the first of a series on carbon-free energy - on the politics of wind power, reported from Denmark, a windmill haven.

Jay Rosen acidly observes that though the "religion" of journalism plays down the importance of opinion, the New York Times recently sent precisely the opposite message when it announced that the online edition will begin charging for columnists this fall. Readers want opinion-writing. It's the Voice of God they're tired of.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

NOT AS LOATHED AS CONGRESSMEN. This Editor & Publisher story on the latest Gallup poll leads with the news that public confidence in the media continues to slide. E&P reports:

Those having a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in newspapers dipped from 30% to 28% in one year, the same total for television. The previous low for newspapers was 29% in 1994. Since 2000, confidence in newspapers has declined from 37% to 28%, and TV from 36% to 28%, according to the poll.

But wait! Near the bottom of the article is this:

Confidence in the presidency plunged from 52% to 44%, with Congress and the criminal-justice system also suffering 8% drops. Confidence in the U.S. Supreme Court fell from 46% to 41%. The 22% confidence rating for Congress is its lowest in eight years, and self-identified Republicans have only a slightly more positive view of the institution than do Democrats.

The military topped the poll with a 74% confidence rating, with the police at 63% and organized religion at 53%. Big business and Congress (both at 22%) and HMOs (17%) brought up the rear.

In other words, the public may detest the news media, but not as much as it detests congressmen, masters of the universe, and their health-insurance providers. This isn't much of a silver lining, but it's something, I suppose.

DEPOPULATION CRISIS. The Globe's Mark Jurkowitz has the latest update on who's leaving and who's staying at the Herald.

Friday, June 10, 2005

BRAY UPDATE. Or should I say "backdate"? The Herald's Brett Arends had this three days ago. Not sure how I missed it, but here it is.

PAPER TRIAL. John Kerry has reportedly put the Boston Globe in an awkward position. Kerry has declined to release his latest round of military records to the New York Sun, according to that newspaper, even though he has already given them to the Globe and the Los Angeles Times.

Also, Thomas Lipscomb, a scholar at the University of Southern California who writes a column for the Chicago Sun-Times, called the Globe and asked if the paper would make Kerry's records available to him. The answer, from managing editor Mary Jane Wilkinson: no.

"It is my understanding that Kerry will release these papers to anyone else now that he has signed the Form 180," Wilkinson told Lipscomb. "The Boston Globe is not going to make available the papers we have received."

Of course, the Globe has an ethical obligation not to release those records. That would be like turning over unpublished photos or notes to law-enforcement officials to help them with an investigation. But now that Kerry has decided to put his records out there, he ought to make them available to all comers.

(There also appears to be some dispute as to whether Kerry actually has released everything - though I suppose John O'Neill is going to keep crying foul until he turns up a document showing that Lieutenant Kerry pledged allegiance to the North Vietnamese government.)

This was always a phony issue, which I imagine is why Kerry continues to seem so offended by it. But he's only made it worse by simply not shoveling the stuff out there. (Via KausFiles.)

BRAYING AGAIN. Speaking of the Globe, technology columnist Hiawatha Bray - last seen in Media Log when he was ordered to stop posting anti-Kerry comments on blogs - has found a new cause.

Bray is running as a write-in candidate for an at-large position on the executive committee of the Newspaper Guild to protest remarks by Newspaper Guild president Linda Foley. Bray writes:

On May 13, in a speech in St. Louis, Newspaper Guild president Linda Foley accused the US military of deliberately murdering journalists in Iraq. She presented no evidence for this assertion, and has refused to offer any. I know, because I've phoned her multiple times. Foley has said that she will make no further public comment on the matter. This won't do.

Here is a report on Foley's remarks by the trade magazine Editor & Publisher. (To the Newspaper Guild's credit, I found this linked from its website.) Here is part of what she said:

Journalists are not just being targeted verbally or politically. They are also being targeted for real in places like Iraq. And what outrages me as a representative of journalists is that there's not more outrage about the number and the brutality, and the cavalier nature of the U.S. military toward the killing of journalists in Iraq. I think it's just a scandal.

Naturally, the Guild, according to E&P, has been the target of vicious right-wing attacks ever since Foley spoke up. Not that Foley's doing herself any favors - she says her words were taken out of context, but that doesn't seem to be the case. (Via InstaPundit.)

Thursday, June 09, 2005

NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. The smoking gun? John Kerry, George W. Bush, and the Downing Street memo.

Also, this week is our annual Summer Guide, and I've got a piece on hiking New Hampshire's 4000-foot peaks.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

MORE ON THE FINNERAN INDICTMENT. To read some of the comments on my item yesterday about Tom Finneran, you'd think that being opposed to someone politically was now sufficient for locking him up in a federal prison. I suggest they check in with Herald columnist Howie Carr (sub. req.), who today offers similar so-called wisdom.

I was not an admirer of Finneran's speakership. Here is a piece I wrote nearly two years ago, when his power was just starting to fade. He was, as I said then, "power-hungry and vindictive and full of himself." He used his mastery of the legislative process, as well as intimidation, to kill Clean Elections, which had been approved by two-thirds of the voters, as well as to carry out a host of other anti-democratic measures. But that's not a crime.

Globe columnist Scot Lehigh puts the Finneran indictment in perspective today, writing, "Finneran-haters may applaud, but fair-minded people are left to hope the judge and jury that decide his fate will show better judgment when presented with this flimsy case than the US attorney did in bringing it."

That US attorney would be a former Republican state legislator named Michael Sullivan, a politically ambitious pol who's no doubt thinking of running for governor in 2006, assuming Mitt Romney decides to hit the presidential-campaign trail full-time.

As Lehigh notes, even though Finneran appeared to play it cute in toning down his role in a House-redistricting plan that was properly thrown out by a federal court, charging him with perjury is ridiculous because (1) there is no credible evidence that Finneran had a criminal intent in misleading the court; (2) his lies, if that's what they even were, were not material in deciding the case; and (3) perjury is a very narrowly drawn crime - weasel words may not be admirable, but they're perfectly acceptable if they can be shown to be technically true, or at least not out-and-out false.

Lehigh spoke with Harvey Silverglate, a noted civil-liberties lawyer and Phoenix contributor. I had a similar conversation with Silverglate a few weeks before Finneran's indictment. "Perjury is one of the most specific crimes," he told me. "In asking the question, you have to cut off all avenues of escape. You've got to have a direct contradiction to the truth."

That's going to be awfully difficult to prove in Finneran's case. He's charged with perjuring himself for claiming he had no advance knowledge of the redistricting plan. Yet we already know that, at other points in his testimony, he said pretty much the opposite. If Finneran's intent was to mislead the court, he did a poor job of it.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

MR. SPEAKER IN THE DOCK. The big local news today, of course, is the indictment of former Massachusetts House Speaker Tom Finneran on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Finneran is being charged in connection with his testimony in a redistricting case heard in federal district court.

The most significant thing about the two Boston dailies is how they played it. The Globe led the front with a five-column, two-deck head that reads "Grand Jury Indicts Finneran; Defense May Hinge on Intent." The Finneran story gets number-two placement in the Herald, with a "Tommy Takes It on the Chin" headline in the upper right, next to the nameplate. (The lead, "Hub Beach Shame," is about maintenance woes at Malibu Beach.)

Both papers cover roughly the same ground in their lead stories and sidebars. This would appear to be the best link for all of the Herald's Finneran coverage today; scroll below the lead story for the sidebars. The Globe website links all of its Finneran stuff from its main story.

One other thing worth noting: Globe columnist Brian McGrory is ecstatic over the Finneran indictment. There's not much doubt that the redistricting plan over which Finneran may or may not have presided was a sleazy attempt to protect white incumbents. But that doesn't mean Finneran perjured himself - a very specific offense that, as you will see in other coverage, may be extremely difficult to prove.

I'm more in agreement with this Herald editorial, which, though critical of the redistricting plan, has this to say about the case against Finneran:

In fact, rarely has so much effort been expended to secure an indictment in a case with so little consequence.

This was, after all, not about corruption or about using public office for personal gain. Tom Finneran is no Buddy Cianci. Quite the contrary, he has a reputation for rectitude that has bordered on the stiff-necked.

Indeed, based on what we know so far, I hope Finneran beats the rap.

Monday, June 06, 2005

OODLES OF TROUBLE. The most significant media story of the weekend was this piece, by the Globe's Bruce Mohl, on Oodle.com, a commercial website that aggregates classified ads from a variety of sources, including newspapers.

Oodle doesn't steal - once you've found what you're looking for, you still have to click through to, say, the Globe's or the Herald's site to read the full ad. So there's nothing for newspapers to worry about, right?

Wrong. Mohl writes:

John Morton, a newspaper analyst with Morton Research, said the Oodle concept has obvious advantages for consumers, but he said its success could undermine the advertising rates of classified providers, which tend to be based on circulation.

Morton said there may be less incentive for a consumer to spend $50 on a classified ad in a large-circulation publication when a $10 ad in a smaller-circulation publication would end up with equal billing on Oodle.

"You're taking the publication's circulation out of the equation," Morton said.

This is potentially huge. Classified ads make up an enormous percentage of newspaper revenues. If the Oodle model takes hold, though, it doesn't matter where you advertise - you could take out an ad in a small paper, Craigslist, or whatever, and it will pop up in an Oodle search just as readily as if you had bought the ad in the Herald or the Globe.

And so the economic underpinnings of journalism are undermined once again.

Here's the press release announcing Oodle's move into Greater Boston.

OLIPHANT'S BACK. Globe columnist Tom Oliphant's battle with a burst brain aneurysm certainly hasn't robbed him of his sense of humor. Oliphant had two great lines in his moving comeback piece yesterday:

2005 suddenly becomes 1953.... And you have no idea who the president is - it really was possible to forget George Bush for a while.

...

Decades of journalism helped me pretend to have knowledge I didn't have.

Not a shred of self-pity, either. It will be good to see Oliphant back in the paper on a regular basis.

Friday, June 03, 2005

NOTED AT THE HERALD. Earlier today I criticized ABC News's The Note for assuming the Herald's Noelle Straub had not attempted to contact National Review in order to place Michael Murphy's quote about Mitt Romney in some context. There was simply no way The Note-sters could know that without asking her.

Now I've been informed by the Herald's Washington-bureau chief, Andrew Miga, that Straub did indeed call NR several times yesterday to no avail. I'm not surprised.

I'm sure if The Note started making calls to verify every item, Mark Halperin and crew could never actually get the thing e-mailed out. But they've got to do a better job of filtering out comments that they have no business making unless they check them first by picking up the phone.

Should I have picked up the phone? As I wrote earlier, that's always the blogging dilemma. My intent was to whack The Note, period. My case would have been stronger if I'd called Straub. But I can think of three other calls I could have made, too. And then this ceases to be a blog.

That's not an excuse. Every honest blogger will admit that we're all still trying to figure this thing out.

ROMNEY AND ABORTION. Actions speak louder than words, and words speak louder than privately held thoughts. So absolutely no one should be outraged, or even mildly peeved, to learn that Governor Mitt Romney has allegedly been "faking" his support for abortion rights in Massachusetts.

"He's been a pro-life Mormon faking it as a pro-choice friendly," Republican political consultant Michael Murphy told National Review, according to a cover profile coming out later today (Globe coverage here; Herald coverage here).

But another Republican, Ron Kaufman, is absolutely right when he says that he "spent a lot of hours on that campaign three years ago, and on this issue, the governor was focused, disciplined, and consistent that if elected governor, he wouldn't change one comma on the laws surrounding life. That was always his answer, and he's kept his word. He's not faking anything."

Kathryn Jean Lopez, writing for National Review Online, hopes that Romney's opposition to the state's embryonic-stem-cell bill may better represent his true feelings about pro-life issues. Perhaps it does. But again, so what? Romney has never threatened abortion rights in this state. Whether he would as a presidential candidate is another matter, and it's a question he'll have to answer.

Massachusetts Democratic Party spokeswoman Jane Lane tells the Globe, "It's disturbing when your closest political adviser admits you've been lying your entire political career." Yo, Jane: lying about what?

LET IT BE NOTED. By the way, not a shining day for ABC News's political dope sheet, The Note, which says this about the Globe's reporting on Murphy's weasely explanation that he was taken out of context: "Amazingly, the paper (along with the Boston Herald) fails to go back to the National Review reporter to see if the out-of-context explanation is accurate."

Hmmm ... The Note must have missed this, which comes toward the end of the Globe's story:

Jack Fowler, the National Review's associate publisher and a self-described fan of Romney's, said he interpreted Murphy's remark as an attempt to distinguish Romney from other Northeast Republicans who have tended to be fiscal conservatives but social liberals, especially on the abortion issue.

"I think this is some attempt to tell the folks in Louisiana and Arizona, 'Don't pigeonhole this guy with what you think of the rest of Northeast Republicans,'" Fowler said. "He's laid the gauntlet down on certain fights, fighting the good fight, and that's not to be taken unseriously. I like the guy."

No, Fowler didn't write the piece, but it sounds like the Globe's Raphael Lewis called NR looking for the writer, John Miller, and was put through to Fowler. What else is he supposed to do?

There's nothing in Noelle Straub's Herald piece to indicate whether she sought comment from NR, but I would Note that it's hard to know without asking her. Maybe she couldn't reach anyone.

This brings up an interesting ongoing issue about blogging. Most blogs - including Media Log, most of the time, anyway - deal with what's on the record, period. My philosophy is that if I determine I can't write about something without picking up the phone, then I save it for the print edition. (That doesn't mean I haven't occasionally blundered into situations where I should have made a call.)

In this case, The Note stands accused of failing to pick up the phone before criticizing Lewis and Straub for - well, failing to pick up the phone.

LET IT BE FURTHER NOTED. Does The Note have a thing for the Globe? Check this out, from May 13: "Correction: Boston Globe Pulitzer Prize winner Gareth Cook did indeed interview Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney about stem cells Wednesday. We implied he had not, and we regret the error."

YOU CAN'T MAKE THIS STUFF UP. "CDC Team Investigates an Outbreak of Obesity" - New York Times, 6/3/05

YOU CAN'T MAKE THIS STUFF UP II. "Bill Would Require Students to Volunteer" - Salem News, 6/2/05

Thursday, June 02, 2005

BOSTON PHOENIX NAMES ASSOCIATE EDITOR. Here's the text of a press release just released by the Phoenix:

Bill Jensen, the managing editor of the Long Island Press, is joining the Boston Phoenix as associate editor. Jensen will initially be responsible for directing news and feature coverage as well as special issues and projects. In addition, he'll serve as the editorial liaison with the paper's growing online division, thephoenix.com.

"Bill has his feet firmly planted in the moment," says Editor Peter Kadzis. "He has a strong sense of what makes news and understands how the arts and popular culture intersect - which is vital for any alternative publication."

Jensen, 32, did his undergraduate work at Boston University, where he had a double major in classics and religion. He received a Master's from Kansas State in religious studies. He began his journalism career as an assistant editor at the Long Island Voice, a since discontinued sister publication of the Village Voice.

He has also worked as a freelance writer, contributing to the New York Times and Newsday, among other publications.

In 2002 Jensen became the founding managing editor of the Long Island Press, a member of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (AAN).

Of his new post Jensen says, "As a member of the team that started the Long Island Press three years ago, I helped build from scratch a 150,000 circulation newspaper - a newspaper that is now considered indispensable in its market. I am now bringing the same drive and creativity that guided me at a start-up to one of the most respected alternative weekly newspapers in the country. I intend to uphold the tradition of excellence the Boston Phoenix has built in its 39 years while maintaining the paper's relevance amidst the challenges every paper is facing in this new century."

Phoenix Executive Vice President Bradley M. Mindich said Jensen's hire is indicative of the paper's continued commitment to both editorial excellence and the future growth of the company.

"We are very excited to have Bill join our leadership team as associate editor. What is great about bringing Bill in now is that he, not only, brings experience, energy and ideas on how to grow and develop the Phoenix for the next 39 years, but his arrival couldn't be timed any better given star media critic Mark Jurkowitz's return and our much anticipated June 17th re-launch of the newspaper. There are amazing things happening at the Phoenix these days, and having Bill join our vibrant and highly professional editorial department is key to our continued growth and success," said Mindich.

DEEP THROAT, DAY THREE. The story's running out of gas with surprising speed. But it's still got a bit of life in it. Today's must-reads are Bob Woodward's own account, in the Washington Post, and this Todd Purdum-Jim Rutenberg New York Times piece, which does not make Mark Felt's family look good. Howard Kurtz has some interesting stuff on the Post's "lost scoop."

BLOGGING MACHINE. Boston Herald business reporter Jay Fitzgerald now has not one but two weblogs. His Hub Blog, which he began writing before taking a job at the Herald, has long been a mandatory stop on the Boston blog circuit. Last month, he started writing EconoBlog for the Herald's site to offer another perspective on local business news - and, as often as not, to flog the Herald's business coverage. Not that I would ever do that with my Phoenix colleagues! (See next item.)

ROMNEY BUZZ. Has anyone noticed that the conservative Weekly Standard's cover story this week is on Mitt Romney? Written by the magazine's publisher, Terry Eastland, the profile consists of paint-by-numbers stuff - the Olympics, the failed 1994 race against Ted Kennedy, Romney's no-new-taxes governorship - before getting down to its real subject: Romney's Mormonism, and how it will play with evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics.

The Phoenix's Adam Reilly took an in-depth look at Romney's faith earlier this year.

UNINTENDED IRONY. "Radio Losing Its Sense of Humor, Keillor Says." (Boston Globe)

NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. The White House's hatchet man targets National Public Radio.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

AN UNKIND CUT. Boston Herald sports columnist Michael Gee, who never got the play his consistently intelligent pieces deserved, is the latest victim of cutbacks at One Herald Square. Earlier in his career, Gee was a sportswriter extraordinaire at the Phoenix, and his voice will be missed. He says goodbye at the Boston Sports Media site. (Via Jay Fitzgerald by way of Adam Gaffin. Or is it the other way around?)

NOTES ON DEEP THROAT. My favorite candidate was always Al Haig. There have been reports over the years that Haig did much to keep things on an even keel while Richard Nixon was going through his final freakout. According to one account whose origins I have long since forgotten, Haig even went so far as to make the top military officials promise to check with him before carrying out a Nixonian order to stage a coup against Congress.

So yesterday's revelation that Deep Throat was actually Mark Felt, the number-two official at the FBI, was anticlimactic. For one thing, it had long been rumored to be Felt. For another, I knew nothing about him until I read the Vanity Fair article (PDF) yesterday afternoon. The buzz factor for Felt was pretty low.

I was in high school when Watergate played out. Nixon's resignation came just before I began college. For liberals right around my age, Nixon gave us what George W. Bush gives the right today: moral certainty. We were absolutely, utterly convinced that Nixon was the most evil person ever to occupy the presidency. Today, Nixon's actual public policies look positively enlightened compared to those of Bush, but there's still little question that Nixon's evil streak was unsurpassed. How did you like his dark mutterings about the Jews that were reported yesterday? Kind of sends a chill up your spine, doesn't it?

The most repulsive performances I saw yesterday were turned in by the Kennedy School's David Gergen, who served many presidents, including Nixon, and Chuck Colson, the Watergate figure who's best known for having found God while he was in prison. On CNN's NewsNight, they both denounced Felt for having gone to the media rather than to his superiors at the FBI and the Justice Department. Colson didn't surprise me; Gergen did. I guess it was a good illustration of the limits of a timid bureaucrat in a moment of crisis. Mark Felt, whatever else he was, was no timid bureaucrat.

Yesterday afternoon, Wendell Woodman, a freelance political columnist based at the State House, in Boston, blasted out an e-mail containing a column he wrote in 1995 in which he speculated that Felt was Deep Throat. The column was preceded by an introductory note stating that Woodman had actually fingered Felt as far back as the early 1970s.

Here is the column - and you've got to love the Florida voting-fraud angle. Some things never change. I've fixed a few spellings of names.

No, Diane Sawyer was not "Deep Throat," as Rabbi Baruch Korff, an old confidante of President Nixon, suggested Monday for the amusement of AP.

Diane may be Deep Flattered. But "Deep Throat" was Mark Felt.

The Associated Press attributed the rabbi's guess to the fact that Diane was an assistant to White House Press Secretary Ron Ziegler in 1972. AP promptly added Diane into the sauce with former FBI director L. Patrick Gray and then-National Security deputy Alexander Haig as Throat candidates.

Author Bob Woodward of the Washington Post and "All The President's Men" insists the source who helped him and fellow reporter Carl Bernstein break the Watergate story was a guy.

That would be Mark Felt.

After three Miami television stations projected the results of the September, 1970 primary elections in Florida's Dade County "down to the last digit" as soon as the polls closed, Henry Petersen, who headed the U.S. Justice Department's Criminal Division, was instructed to begin an investigation.

Throughout 1971 and into 1972, the Nixon White House - notably Attorney General John Mitchell and Nixon aides H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman - received regular briefings. Richard Nixon, who was sure that vote fraud in Illinois and Texas had cost him the presidency in 1960, was a fanatic on the subject and in 1972 ordered Petersen to accelerate the probe.

As soon as FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover died on May 2, 1972, a 27-year-old Justice Department employee named Craig C. Donsanto signed Petersen's name to a "courtesy" letter telling Democratic Congressman Claude Pepper of Miami that all hell was about to break loose. Pepper learned that Democratic National Committee offices based at the Watergate ostensibly were in cahoots with a California computing firm anxious to corner the market on the new computer voting industry and that Dade County had been a guinea pig.

Promising him assistance in his career, Pepper prevailed on Donsanto to stamp a "National Security" embargo on the FBI file. That file is still classified. But two Miami reporters, Kenneth and James Collier, managed to obtain copies of it - at about the time Bob Graham was elected Governor of Florida in 1978.

One of the three TV stations implicated in the 1970 fraud case was WPLG-TV of Miami, an affiliate of the Washington Post and Newsweek, and the property of Post owner Katharine Graham, who is Bob Graham's brother-in-law. The call letters WPLG were a tribute to her late husband, Philip L. Graham.

The Watergate burglars (from Miami, you will recall) did not break into the Watergate to tap a telephone. It doesn't take six people to do that. They were looking for evidence of vote fraud and conspiracy.

Thanks to Donsanto's counterfeit letter to Pepper, the offices were germ-free. They didn't even leave milk and cookies for the six burglars.

Thanks to a grateful Claude Pepper, Craig Donsanto quickly became chief of the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section and, by 1984, was Special Prosecutor in the Voting Fraud Section, responsible for all federal voting fraud cases in the United States. Gives you a warm feeling, right?

Although Petersen's case was derailed by the treachery in his office, those who were party to those matters viewed the Watergate debacle as a race between Nixon and the Post to see which would nail the other first.

New to his job as Acting Director of the FBI at the time of the burglary, L. Patrick Gray was forced to rely on the judgment and expertise of the man who had been J. Edgar Hoover's aide and confidante - Mark Felt.

As a junior departmental attorney whose new Godfather was Claude Pepper, Donsanto scored more career points for himself at Justice by feeding everything he had on the case to Mark Felt.

The currency of choice is Washington is information, favors.

Perhaps Mark Felt did feed some of that to Gray, but certainly Gray would not have passed it along to the Post from his tenuous role as "Acting" director of the FBI. That identifies the crafty Mark Felt as "Deep Throat." That conclusion is not a stretch (indeed, it's unavoidable) once we rid ourselves of the nursery rhyme about six burglars trying to tap a telephone.

When in 1982 the Colliers invited Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward to view a six-hour videotape of voting fraud in Dade County and inquired "what Katharine Graham knew and when she knew it?" Woodward replied, "Don't start a war with me on this."

As late as 1983, the State Attorney for Dade County, a lady named Janet Reno (ring a bell?) was urging the Governor of Florida to name a special prosecutor to press the so-called Votescam case. But the Governor, a future U.S. Senator named Bob Graham (ring a bell?) refused her requests.

By 1984, expecting a challenge from Gov. Graham for her U.S. Senate seat in 1986, Republican Sen. Paula Hawkins sponsored an order to create a special select Senate committee on voting abuse, and prevailed on then-Attorney General William Smith and two of his deputies to view the video.

Everything is under lock-and-key, at least in Florida.

Bob Woodward's source on a private Oval Office conversation between President Clinton and a member of his cabinet (related in his book, "The Agenda: Inside the Clinton White House") will be revealed 74 years from now, he promises. In another book, "Veil", he related a 1986 deathbed confession of CIA Director William J. Casey about Iran-Contra thusly: "I believed."

Why a comatose patient fresh from a craniotomy would pass that along to the man who brought down Nixon just because he snuck by a committee of CIA security men at Georgetown Hospital is curious. If he was hoping that Woodward would pass it along to the Roman Catholic Church, he got his wish. It's on page 507.

As to the other matter, "Deep Throat" was Mark Felt.

Woodman wasn't the only one to guess correctly - as others have noted, the Washingtonian settled on Felt as the likely candidate as far back as 1974. But this is impressive nevertheless.